The role of technology in successful and seamless council devolution

As part of the government’s ambitions to ‘level up’ the UK, it has identified the concept of county council devolution as a key element to achieving this. From a local government perspective, there is a clear appetite to work towards this aspiration, with several councils setting their sights on new devolution deals with the government.

Five councils in Somerset are to be replaced with a single unitary authority and many other local authorities, including Devon and Norfolk, are also negotiating new unitary council deals. The plans will capitalise on the benefits of collaborating with other authorities and relocating power from national to local government – strengthening local leadership and transforming the way services are delivered in these areas.  

As set out in its ‘Levelling Up’ whitepaper, the government has highlighted its mission to extend, deepen and simplify devolution across England. The strategy focuses on realigning national and local budgets, addressing regional inequality, and improving public services for all constituents at a local level. But are councils ready to execute the level of change involved in the devolution? Scott Goodwin, Head of Local Government at Idox explains how technology can help councils successfully transition to a unitary model.

Demystifying devolution 

Establishing new unitary councils will ensure people and businesses have the sustainable high-quality local services they deserve, with the shift in decision-making from Westminster to a local level. Such inclusive collaboration will significantly improve the effectiveness of targeted public services and facilities across the country – from infrastructure, connectivity, and local transport projects to improved quality of life through cutting crime and regenerating town centres and high streets. The reorganisation will bring significant benefits, giving local leaders the tools to help level up opportunity and prosperity across their communities.  

Implementing innovative cloud-based technology is the way to ensure successful devolution.

Positive sentiment for devolution is shared by the public, with 83% of people in city regions supporting some form of greater devolution. One reason for this is the promise of realigned budgets that a unitary model offers, along with the freedom and flexibility to work more efficiently for people and communities in local areas. 

While the benefits are encouraging, this type of societal change is not straightforward. Public trust must remain a top priority throughout as any changes in public service or process has the potential to create disruption and fallout, if not correctly dealt with. Moreover, devolution does not eliminate the existing funding problems. Councils still face challenges of competitive, centralised and restricted funding pots, even with a unitary model. Therefore, it is important to make sure that a shift to a devolved model is seamless and creates an equitable relationship between all stakeholders involved – from central government to local authorities and services to citizens.  

Implementing innovative cloud-based technology is the way to ensure successful devolution. It helps councils to migrate and integrate disparate and complex systems, and re-evaluate and enhance existing working practices with limited resources. For example, deploying cloud-based technologies enable a smooth transition from fragmented to a unitary government by facilitating secure and efficient management of the entire council remit, and providing safe, effective and reliable access and connections where it matters.  

Technology as an enabler in council consolidation

As the public continues to face new and evolving challenges – from the cost-of-living crisis to the ongoing climate emergency, the war in Ukraine to political scandals – trust in government remains volatile. Therefore, councils need to be empowered with the right tools and insights to efficiently operate unitary council developments so that people can rely on them to manage the essential services they depend on. 

While digital competence and engagement increase across the country, data is growing exponentially. Therefore, automated technology is key to seamless council consolidation as it streamlines processes and mitigates the risk of human errors – ensuring no resident is forgotten. Property-based data, for example, enables multiple data modules to be transferred to one integrated solution and centralised data allows information to be easily shared – thereby allowing authorities to reallocate attention and resources towards delivering improved frontline services.  

Councils need to be empowered with the right tools and insights to efficiently operate unitary council developments so that people can rely on them to manage the essential services they depend on.

Considering the growing expectation from the public for rapid and easy access to the information they need, it is becoming increasingly essential for councils to deploy reliable tools and databases that make these expectations a reality and have a positive influence on the entire community. By providing the necessary foundations for improved online services and citizen engagement, centralised portals and application services, and enhanced collaboration tools that span across authorities, technology helps councils to become more resilient, agile and scalable. Moreover, effective and efficient processes supported by streamlined technology empower local authorities to support more of their residents, and combining forces lead to councils having the resources and power to address regional inequalities and deliver a positive outcome in society. 

During the pandemic, councils across the country made excellent progress in digital transformation to rapidly change how they deliver public services. According to Lord Porter, leader of South Holland DC in Lincolnshire, COVID-19 proved counties and districts can work together, and a devolution deal could lead to councils cooperating more and sharing services. Accordingly, as they enter this new consolidation phase, cloud-based technology will offer digital infrastructure benefits and help address the IT challenges that councils are likely to encounter due to their future vast geographical spread.  

Our local government software applications underpin the secure and efficient management of the entire regulatory services remit, including planning, building control, environmental health, trading standards, licensing and public sector housing processes. To find out more contact us.

Published on: 29 July 2022

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